The Covid-19 pandemic has revived cycling to levels last seen in Britain in the 1960s as people started commuting to work or following government decrees to exercise – and there is no sign that the enthusiasm for 2020 is running out.
Demand for everything from kids’ bikes and mountain bikes to e-bikes, is on the rise across the board, says Simon Irons, director of market data services at the Bicycle Association (BA).
Its figures show 3.1 million bikes were purchased in Britain in 2020, around 15% more than in the past five years. 3 million additional sales are expected in 2021.
These shiny new wheels were used in England, Scotland and Wales to travel 5 billion kilometers in 2020, according to the Department for Transport (DfT). This was 46% more than in 2019 and the “highest level on public roads since the 1960s,” according to its annual road traffic survey.
Sales have grown by nearly 70% in the first three months of this year, according to BA, a figure that would likely be even higher were it not for the stockouts that a bicycle company executive described as the ” industry ‘toilet time.
The sudden increase has put additional pressure on production and, particularly recently, there have been constraints on shipping to handle as well. According to the BA, this resulted in temporary delays, especially for customers who wanted to purchase a particular brand, model, size or color.
Tim Goodall, managing director of Shropshire-based children’s brand Islabikes, says as soon as the stock arrives it flies.
“Usually we would have a little bit of everything and you would get deliveries and the inventory has a nice wavy pattern,” he says. “Right now it’s ups and downs. We have regular deliveries and we sell what arrives almost immediately, so we are in stock and out of stock. Looking back, if we had ordered 50% more in 2020, we would have sold them. “
The disruption of the supply chain means much longer delivery times. Islabikes, for example, says its ordering times have gone from four to 18 months. The rush to get bikes has made people “less picky,” Goodall says. “We will sell any color we have in stock. Whether it’s pink, red or teal doesn’t matter anymore.
Halfords, the UK’s largest bicycle retailer, recently warned of a global shortage. Its chief executive, Graham Stapleton, said last month that tens of thousands of bikes were arriving in stores every week, but still couldn’t promise full availability as some manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand.
Sourcing “was and remains a challenge,” Stapleton said, but the retailer has worked with new suppliers to “achieve consistent supply throughout the year.”
To appease buyers, the Halfords website devotes a section to explaining why products are sold out, highlighting factors such as raw material shortages, factory closures and port delays. It also offers menus that direct shoppers to “in stock now”, “back in stock this week” and “coming soon” bikes.
Pressure on the industry’s supply chain has underscored the need for buyers “to be flexible in finding the right bike,” says Irons. Nevertheless, the BA believes that for the whole of 2021, the industry will have “at least the same number available for purchase as in 2020”.
A survey of 2,000 consumers by market research firm Mintel found that the number of cyclists who intend to buy a bike this year had risen to 42% from 37% in 2020, suggesting that the request triggered by Covid has not been exhausted. He also revealed that almost a quarter of those who bought a bike in 2020 used second-hand sellers, a six point increase from the previous year.
But with the average expenditure for an adult bike estimated at £ 458 last year and £ 126 for a children’s model, according to the BA, there is also evidence of a growing appetite for subscription programs like those that are more and more common in areas such as clothing and furniture.
Swapfiets, the Dutch firm dubbed the ‘Netflix of bikes’, is stepping up efforts to recruit bikers in London after receiving a warm welcome since moving to the capital last year. The fast-growing company – the name means ‘swap bike’ in Dutch – is Europe’s largest rental service, with more than 220,000 bikes with iconic blue front tires, circulating in 64 cities.
Onno Huyghe, its commercial director, says he already has around 700 users in London but hopes there will soon be thousands and can match the success he is enjoying in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where it has 45,000 and 20,000 passengers respectively. .
“We tested the waters in London with a soft launch and now think it’s time to step up,” Huyghe said. “We provide a very safe, light and always in good condition bike, which in London’s heavy traffic is quite important. “
It offers an introductory price of £ 12.90 per month for a push bike if you sign up for six months. For a flexible membership, which you can cancel before the end of six months, you pay an additional fee of £ 19.50 up front.
A ‘luxury’ bike costs £ 14.90 on a six-month rental basis, while an e-bike starts at £ 75 per month, and with the two you can pay £ 19.50 for a flexible subscription. The cost includes repairs or replacement if something goes wrong and a lock, but bikes are not insured against theft. If one is stolen while you have it, you’ll pay a fee – starting at £ 40 for the standard bike if it was secured with the padlock provided, and increasing if you haven’t locked it or you have a more expensive contract.
The Bike Club is a national subscription service, specializing in children’s bikes from popular brands such as Forme, Frog and Squish. He says its membership has tripled in the past year to 36,000.
James Symes, co-founder and managing director, says a growing number of people now think that owning a children’s bicycle is no use. Leasing avoids the upfront costs as well as the risk of buying a missed second-hand item, he says. Its children’s subscriptions cost between £ 5 and £ 15 per month.
“You can buy and sell used bikes very easily, but you don’t know how safe it is because it hasn’t been professionally maintained or refurbished,” he adds. “Plus, if your kid isn’t quite there yet, a subscription allows you to take a break without spending a huge amount of money on something dusting in the shed. “
Its success with children’s bikes has encouraged the London-based company to also branch out into the rental of Forme adult bikes, with a service set to launch this month. In this market, Symes says its main competitor is property because, unlike children, adults never overtake them. However, he thinks the model will appeal to beginners, or those who don’t want to bother buying used.
Its website lists five models for rent – all of them currently have a waiting list. Subscriptions start at £ 15 per month. For that price you can hire a Forme Winster 1, which costs around £ 450. There is no minimum subscription period – instead, each time you choose to cancel you’ll pay a fee of £ 29.99 for the bike to be picked up. After 32 months of rental you can keep it – at this point on a £ 15 per month model you will have paid £ 480.
If the bike is stolen, you will still have to pay up to 32 months of fees to cover the costs, unless you opt to join the company’s Bike Club Plus. It is basically an insurance policy, which costs £ 2 per month and comes with a deductible. On adult bikes you will pay the first £ 110 for the loss.
Leasing has its advantages: if you are not happy with your wheels on the move, you can cancel or exchange it for less than if you had bought the bike. As for maintenance and repairs – including a flat tire or broken chain – these are included in Swapfiets’ monthly fee and they promise to fix your bike within 48 hours.
The Bike Club will pay for defective bikes, but the cost of general repair and repair of punctures are the responsibility of the member.
With stays on the menu for many, whether you want to buy or borrow, the biking frenzy should continue – for now anyway. Goodall advises people to put their names on retail waiting lists and order immediately when a bike is back in stock, or is likely to run out.